Why won't appraisers do a free comp check for me?
Appraisers are governed by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, or USPAP. Among the many restrictions of USPAP is one that prohibits appraisers from accepting an assignment to appraise a property based on a predetermined value or range of value. So for example, if an appraiser does a comp check to find out if a home will appraise for at least a certain amount and it will, he or she cannot then accept the assignment to do the actual appraisal from you. In performing a comp check, he or she by definition has actually already performed a type of appraisal and must maintain complete records showing how and when they arrived at the figures they quoted you in the comp check. The intent of this USPAP rule is to prevent some dishonest appraisers from being tempted to over-appraise properties in order to secure an assignment, to combat predatory lending practices, to prevent fraud in the market place, and to preserve the soundness of lending portfolios and regulatory/insuring agencies. Rather than just another regulatory burden, it's a sensible law.
Another reason is that appraisers are understandably reluctant to quote numbers over the phone for a property they haven't seen anywhere but on paper, a web site, or heard about over the phone. Lenders and homeowners should understand that any preliminary figure an appraiser might give may turn out to be incorrect once the appraiser examines the property. Without onsite inspection, an appraiser cannot know about the condition of a home, additions or improvements not shown in tax records, and adjacent or nearby locational aspects that might produce a substantially different opinion of value than from a simple lookup of neighborhood sales prices. When the result of onsite inspection produces a significantly lower value estimate than what was quoted over the phone, people tend to get very upset!
Another important reason is one of economy. Appraisers are often asked to do as many as 10-20 comp checks a week and some much more than that. And since many comp checks will reveal that the owner's estimate of value is not realistic, free comp checks can result in many lost hours of valuable work time, not only to do the comp check but also to prepare and store the required documentation.
Appraisers understand why lenders want to check the value of a property before proceeding with the loan and are not insensitive to your needs, but legal issues and business practicality make free comp checks by an appraiser next to impossible. You can try zilllow.com and it should provide you with a rough estimate of value.